A technical dictionary of printmaking, André Béguin.


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linoleum cut or linocut
The linocut may be considered an engraving and printing technique derived (at least in a technical sense) from woodcutting. The linoleum cut was invented at the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th as a result of a search for easier work and less expense. This technique was soon used in schools and in the illustration of a variety of "poor man's books" ( see also scraping).
Linoleum often abreviated to lino is a surface covering material first made in England in 1863 and produced some ten years later in France. The word was coined using the latin words linum (linen) and oleum (oil). Linoleum is made of a layer of cork dust mixed with linseed oil, gum, and resin, the whole being compressed onto a piece of jute cloth. Linoleum is water proof and is rather supple when it is new or when it is kept at a temperature between 20 and 25 degrees Centigrade (68 to 77 Fahrenheit).
For a long time linoleum was considered to be the wood of the poor engraver and was used as a pastime in schools or for amateur cutting up until the time it was used by artists like Matisse and Picasso who demonstrated the possibilities of this medium. In actual fact linoleum is a supple and soft material en that should not, in any way, be confused with wood. Although it is true that the techniques used in wood cutting and lino cutting are much the same it must also be said that each has its own relative specificity. Both woodcuts and linocuts are based essentially on black/white opposition even though the use of colour can give spectacular effects, especially when applied in solid colour areas.
Linocuts can be made more rapidly than wondcuts and due to this linoleum permits a greater amount of spontaneity. It is a malleable substance that accepts flexible, light, and free lines. Furthermore, any kind of line can be cut into this substance including simple and crossed lines as well as dotted work [
lines].
Linoleum used for cutting comes in its natural colour which is brown or light brown. It should be neither coloured nor discoloured nor should it have a protective layer on it or varnish. The use of colours in the making of linoleum render this substance brittle. The linoleum sheets sold for art work are usually 3mm thick (.l2in) so that it is possible to create a suitable relief without running the risk of cutting into the jute cloth support. The sheet can be polished before working on it by rubbing it with a fine grained
abrasive substance.
On the other hand the very fine grain of linoleum constitutes a spontaneous graining that softens the colour patches. For the grain to appear one must, however, use runny and diluted inks.
Linoleun should not be used in too cold a room and, in winter, it should be warmed up when it is brought in from the cold.
Large sheets of linoleum should be turned around and be cut on the cloth side. If the cut is quite deep the piece can be broken off without further ado. Small formats may, on the other hand, be cut with a pair of large scissors.
The tips and blades used for cutting into linoleum are made in such a way that they can be screwed into a handle and removed whenever another tip is needed. The handle is usually rounded and has the shape of a pear. There are seven or eight different types of tips. The
rounded and the straight bevel are blades which are used with the handle in the hand. With these blades cutting is done either towards or away from oneself. The pointed tip with two bevelled edges (resembling a vaccination needle) is used for fine work. The other tips are pushed along the linoleum surface away from the body. The tips used in this manner are the V-shaped gouges which cut a line in one stroke and the rounded gouges which are used to cut out the low lying areas (three sizes are available: wide, medium, and narrow)
Usually the tips are pushed or putted in the same direction and the linoleum block is turned so that the tip always moves in the same direction. As is done in woodcutting, the first step is to cut around the edges of the drawing. When this job is completed one proceeds to cut but the areas that will print white.
The fine work, hachures, stippling, etc. are usually done at the very end.
The tips and blades used to cut linoleum are worn down very quickly and because of this they must be sharpened often. In fact, linoleum is a supple material that risks being torn if it is not properly cut.
The minute a tip or blade is too worn down for sharpening it should be replaced with a new one. Fortunately these blades are quite inexpensive. Flat tips are easily sharpened on a fine qrained
whetstone.
Insofar as the gouges are concerned one will find that even though their shape makes them harder to deal with they can also be sharpened either with a whetstone or with some
abrasive substance [sharpening]
A linoleum block can be cut into with no preliminaries save the artist's inspiration. Some people prefer to first make a pencil drawing which should be traced over with
India ink so that the artist's hand will not rub the image out while cutting the block. The lines drawn with India ink can also be accentuated by rubbing the image with cloth containing India ink so that the general tone brings out the image.
Yet another technique is to make a
transfer either with a manual tracing or by putting the linoleum block through an intaglio press to transfer the image by means of pressure [tracing, transfer].
Finally, it is also possible to ink the linoleum block (after removing any traces of grease with gasoline or talcum, or after pumicing with an abrasive) and then remove the ink as is done in mezzotint work.
Some printers have used (and may be still using) an acid to etch linoleum. Nitric acid is the acid used as it breaks up and burns linoleum. When this procedure was chosen the stopping out (acid resist) was done with litho ink. These linoleum etchings were then put on a block of wood 20mm (.8in) and used for regular typographical printing.
One of the interesting properties of linoleum is the possibility to etch it with an alkaline solution, which results in a "grainy" surface.. The roughness of the surface can vary from a very fine grain to a very coarse grain. The whole block of lino can be processed, or only certain area's. Etching can be used as a supplementary technique. It is fair to say however that this etching technique is unpredictable as far as results are concerned. The alkaline solution is dangerous, so be careful with children!

Methods.
Edward Bawdon was the first to etch linoleum and used a paint removing liquid. Michael Rothenstein experimented with "caustic soda" and that appeared to be a flexible mordant. The caustic soda is sold as a cristallized powder to re-open sewers and drain pipes.
It si a very aggresive alkaline (NaOH) and should be treated carefully.
Another type of work on linoleum uses a compression technique which was developed for working on wood blocks. The linocutter uses a
matting punch for the purpose which he hammers into the surface.
Matting punches are steel rods which have a particular design on the end that is hammered into the block. The design may be lines, dots or diamond shaped protuberances all of which can be in relief or in intaglio. These punches are used to create shading.
Round holes or points are made using a
ring punch that is hammered into the block. They can also be made with a gouge that is held vertically while the lino block is rotated until the ring is cut out.
As is the case in woodcutting, Linoleum cuts should be made so that the base on which the raised areas rest will be strong enough to resist the printing pressure. The relief lines should be less than 1 mm thick (0.039in) and the slope (from the raised area to the low lying ones) should always lean away from the top. The depth of the intaglio areas (the areas that shouldn't receive any ink) will depend on the width of the relief lines and will thus vary from 1 mm to 2 mm (0.039 in to 0.08 in). As in woodcuts, the widest intaglio areas should also be the deepest ones so that the blotting rollers (inking rollers) do not dirty them.
Colour printing can also be done using several blocks of linoleum or else the same block can be reworked after each printing of an individual colour (as Picasso did, for example). By such means juxtapositions and superimpositions can be obtained [
colour, registering].
The paper usually chosen for printing linocuts is quite thick and has no grain. It has to be dampened ours in before printing [
dampening]. Grainy paper is used when partial pririting is desired in the solid usually colour areas [solid colour, shading , support]. In the latter case the colour only prints on the cutting top of the grain whereas the low areas of the paper do not receive ink especially if the paper is not dampened. While on the subject it should be pointed out that ink will dry to a mat finish if it is printed onto dampened paper.
When the linocut is ready to be printed it should be glued onto a piece of wood so that it will be quite rigid and have a certain thickness.
Linocut blocks can be printed in several ways: on woodcut
presses, manually with the "spoon" technique, with a burnisher, with a frotton, or even with an intaglio press. If the block is printed on an intaglio press the upper cylinder must be raised so that it is as high (or almost as high) as the linocut block be cut in order to ensure the proper pressure.
After a certain number of printings the linocut becomes impregnated with ink and ends up acquiring a beautiful shiny dark colour. When necessary it can be cleaned with turpentine oil. The diluted ink will impregnate the linocut and make it particularly hard and resistant.
A well cut lino block which is handled carefully can be used for more than one thousand impressions towards without running into any problems concerning the clarity of the printed lines. Damaged parts of the cut can be repaired by rubbing a piece of linoleum with an abrasive and then mixing this powder with some glue such as fish giue. The repairing must be done with this paste before it dries up. After drying the repaired part can be rubbed down to the same level as the rest of the block and then worked with a tip or blade. If the repair job concerns a relatively big surface it is easier and faster to cut a piece of linoleum of the same size as the piece to be relaced. The new piece must be cut very precisely and then glued onto the rigid support on the back of the entire block.
This system of cutting out pieces can also be used, if each piece is kept "mobile" (in which case it cannot be glued to a rigid support), to do colour printing using only one sheet of linoleum. The use of only one sheet in colour printing presents the advantage of a rapid printing procedure [
colour].
Insofar as inking and printing techniques are concerned, linocuts are much the same as woodcuts. When manual impressions are made the ink must be slightly thinned with a bit of turpentine oil.


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